Standing Together with Flint

Banner with green background and white text that states: #BeTheChange

This story is part of our #BeTheChange series, which highlights small and large contributions that Manhattan College students are making across campus, in New York City and the U.S., and internationally.

A winter break service immersion experience helped six Jaspers understand the reality of the Flint water crisis.

The classes she’s taken as a marketing major have taught Olivia Gartland ’19 a lot about business. But during the week that she and her classmates traveled from New York City to Flint, Mich., she learned that it’s one thing to read about the effects of a struggling economy.

It’s quite another to see them firsthand.

Gartland was one of five Manhattan College students in January to take part in a Lasallian Outreach Volunteer Experience (L.O.V.E.) to Flint, a city which has been marred by economic decline since the mid-1980s, when General Motors downsized, and left thousands of people jobless. Since the early 2010s, the Flint water crisis has left residents suffering from the negative effects of lead poisoning. The trip was organized by the Firestone Center, a social justice and volunteer center in downtown Flint, and led by student leader Olivia Gartland, and advisor Amy Surak, archivist at the College. 

Video by: Laura Meoli-Ferrigon and Harriet Carino '20

They quickly became a part of the city. Gartland, along with Allison Hickey ’19, Sophia Misiakiewicz, Michael Hackett and Kerianne Costello ’21 prepared and distributed meals at a food pantry and soup kitchen, met young children at three local elementary schools, and sorted various donations collected to benefit the area’s residents in need. For these service projects, they partnered with St. Luke’s Center for Life, Whaley Children and Crossover Ministries. They got to know people in the community, the realities of racial and economic injustices impacting the city, and how they’re living without clean water. Gartland returned to New York City with a conviction to raise awareness about Flint.

“Continuing to tell these residents’ stories was really important to me. People are shocked to hear that people continue to be affected by the Flint clean water and economic crises,” she says.

Back at Warby Parker, the prescription eyewear retailer she has been interning at since June of last year, the Manhattan business major gave a short presentation to colleagues.

During a snack and share segment that encourages employees of the socially minded company to speak on a topic they are informed about, Gartland talked about Flint. After the presentation, when colleagues asked what they could do to support the city, she suggested that they follow in the Jasper example – visit, lend a hand, and find ways of supporting its local economy. 

The L.O.V.E. service immersion program at Manhattan College allows students to spend a week during school breaks learning about social justice issues facing communities domestically and abroad. This year during spring break, groups will travel to Montana, Jamaica, Palestine, and the Dominican Republic. Visit this page to sign up for a L.O.V.E. trip.